A Story of Downtown Auckland [Updated]

Past, Present and Future of Downtown Auckland

 

Mayor and Ludo with some business reps talking about the success of Fort Street Shared Space Transformation
Mayor and Ludo with some business reps talking about the success of Fort Street Shared Space Transformation

 

On Wednesday I was at a presentation with Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse and Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid on what might end up being a continuous rolling update of the projects happening in Downtown Auckland.

This particular presentation you can say was the scene setter, the context of where Downtown has come from to a snapshot of where it is going now. To get an idea of where Downtown Auckland is going now you will need to read the City Centre Master Plan which the presentation made reference of.

There is meant to be a Powerpoint available for the post so you can read what I (and the other media) were presented but I am waiting on Council comms to get it to me 🙂 – please.

 

The Story of Downtown Auckland

This story will follow the line of notes I wrote from Ludo’s part of the presentation.

There was no big announcement due at the briefing (which was expected) but the reason why we (the media) were present was to list to the first chapter of the story that is Downtown Auckland. As Ludo would say in the presentation: “Sorry no big announcement today (which received a few chuckles from the media) but a story to be told from where it has started, to where we are now, and to the future (of Downtown Auckland).”

Ludo would then proceed to tell us that there is serious interest in partnerships (that often lead to Public Private Partnerships) in developing Downtown Auckland. Precinct Properties partnering up with Council over the development of the site opposite Britomart and the Central Post Office building can be used as an example of such a partnership between Council and a private developer. Council, the Council Built Environment Unit (which Ludo is part of) and Precinct Properties are working together in delivering high quality development on the parcel of land that currently houses; Downtown Mall, HSBC Tower, and Zurich House, as well as Queen Elizabeth Square (which has been in the public spotlight lately). As well as the development opportunities presented on this parcel of land we have the first part of the City Rail Link tunnels due to run underneath the site. I did ask Rick Walden of the City Integration Group (which overseas the City Centre developments) did Council have the resources to dig the first part of the City Rail Link when Precinct Properties is ready to go. The answer is yes. So from late 2015 the first part of the City Rail Link from Britomart to the intersection of Albert and Customs Street will be built as the same time Precinct develop their site. All part of the ‘One Dig’ policy the Deputy Mayor alluded to in order to mitigate against more disruption than necessary.

Patrick from Transport Blog was also at the briefing further points out the upcoming developments at the Precinct Properties owned complex:

This is a quick post on the Downtown site. Precinct Properties, the owner of the Mall and the two existing towers [Zurich Hse + HSBC Building] between Lower Queen St and Lower Albert St, are expected to lodge a resource consent in a couple of months for a total rebuild of this site. We expect this proposal to include:

  • a 36 story tower on the south west corner, opposite the Customs Hse
  • 3 story retail precinct in between the three towers
  • an unknown quantity or location of carparking
  • the reinstatement of streets, or ‘street-like’ ground level public realm through the site instead of QE II Square.

Other significant and related issues:

  • Construction is expected to begin next year [2015] and will include the tunnels for the City Rail Link through the site, regardless of the government’s position on this project. Council funding is secured for this.
  • Buses will be removed from Lower Queen St and moved at least in part to Lower Albert St. Lower Queen will become a vehicle free pedestrian space at least for the length in front of Britomart Station.

We are told to expect both a new east/west street connecting the Piazza in front of Britomart to the buses on Lower Albert and a north/south street between Quay and Customs. The later is a reinstatement of a previously existing street called Little Queen, and is what I am focussing on in this post.

Source: http://transportblog.co.nz/2014/06/27/downtown-little-queen-st/

In August we should be hearing from the Auckland Development Committee again on the progress of the Precinct Properties downtown complex site as well as the future fate of Queen Elizabeth Square.

 

Continuing the story

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse jumped in here on the situation with Public Private Partnerships in developing the City Centre – especially Downtown Auckland. PPP’s (as they are known as) are going to be here with us for a while. They should be embraced as developers and development are not dirty words (heh tell that to the NIMBY’s over the other-side of the Bridge that keep popping up). Creativity can not be stifled and plans (some of which stem back from the 1970’s for Downtown Auckland until the City Centre Master Plan superseded them) need to change and evolve as the City evolves. Hmm I am sure I have blogged and even submitted to various plans about the City not being a snow globe piece stuck in a museum but rather an evolving living organism that adapts to its ever-changing environment. Well at least the Deputy Mayor acknowledges that 🙂 .

Back to Ludo

Ludo then picked up the presentation from the Deputy Mayor and pointed out that 97% of all submission on the City Centre Master Plan (which went operative in 2012) supported the plan. I know in my submission and presentation I supported the general outline of the CCMP and even had a few ideas for Wynyard Quarter. It was that particular presentation that I was acquainted with Councillor Cathy Casey, and Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid to which I enjoy a good professional friendship with both.

Ludo then proceeded to go on about Mojo or cache. Before someone quips Austin Powers Ludo was referring to the zing or heartbeat in Downtown Auckland. That is the people interacting with the cityscape and each other which gives Downtown its life and a Sense of Identity which we attach with the place. Yes the City Centre Zone in the Unitary Plan mentions Sense of Identity.  The proposed Super Metropolitan Centre zone in my submissions to the Unitary Plan also make mention of Sense of Identity, something the Metropolitan Centre zones do not “carry” in their definitions.

So that mojo, cache, zing, and Sense of Identity (as I call it) is what is meant to be attracting us to Downtown Auckland (and the wider City Centre). That attraction being lost since the late 80’s and until the early part of the 21st Century when the Viaduct was upgraded for the first America’s Cup defence. That said and as Patrick alluded to in his blog post history of Downtown Auckland has been lost (although people still reminisce about it) and everything possible is being done now to turn the City Centre from a soul-less car dominated space to a pro-people social space. Ludo believes in the belief in the heart (Downtown) and feeling having confidence back in Downtown Auckland. This is especially with new social spaces that enhance that mojo or Sense of Identity like Fort Street, of which I was there with Ludo and the Mayor late last year when parts one and two of Fort Street were transformed.

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Fort Street: An example of new social spaces that have attracted more patrons back to this particular area of Downtown Auckland which was a seedy err place prior to the upgrade. With these upgrades Ludo pointed out that retailers are returning to the City Centre after decades of fleeing.

I also noted that Ludo preferred if the City Centre term was used rather than the existing Central Business District (CBD) term. Most likely as “City Centre” provokes that Sense of Identity in being the beating heart (thus centre) of Auckland. One small problem Ludo in that Auckland operates two City Centres as recognised by the New Zealand Geography Board and NZTA. Yes THE City Centre is our main heart but we also have the Manukau City Centre which like the City Centre is the beating heart of Auckland, is the beating heart of South Auckland. Like its larger cousin Manukau City Centre has its own mojo, cache, zing, Sense of Identity and social spaces that promote what I call socialisation. Socialisation being the interaction of people with other people and the wider cityscape. This is why I am advocating strongly for the Super Metropolitan Centre concept as it strengthens this Sense of Identity provision so that planners recognise and we do have a thriving second tier (Manukau) City Centre behind the main tier one City Centre. To not do this is short-changing a unique geographic dynamic in Auckland as well as the people of South Auckland.

Back to Downtown Auckland

Now I did say at the beginning of the post that Ludo and Penny Hulse had no announcements for us. Well Ludo did it just tucked away in the presentation and needing to be fleshed out.

The first tucked away announcement is that the Council is working on a Downtown Framework that will be presented to the Auckland Development Committee in August. This Framework while it complies with the City Centre Master Plan it will give the finer detail layouts to the future and development of Downtown over the next few decades. Once the Auckland Development Committee has approved the Framework in August it goes out for public consultation.

The second announcement that was tucked away deals with Quay Street. The Quay Street upgrade which is outlined in the City Centre Master Plan goes out for international expressions on interest in September. A question that Ludo did raise to us at the briefing was: Is Quay Street a transport corridor or a transformational project? The answer I concluded and Ludo concluded was that it is both. So the Quay Street upgrade will prove to be both interesting and controversial.

 

Pocket park being trialled on Quay Street. Credit: Auckland Council
Pocket park being trialled on Quay Street.
Credit: Auckland Council

The rest of the presentation before concluding up with questions went on about Precinct Properties which you can read here: Downtown: Little Queen St by Transport Blog

 

My written question (see below) was received and Ludo and Penny did want to answer it but we ran out of time. I have been reassured that both of them will give a written answer to the question hopefully by the end of next week.

The question was:

Context Question: Are these downtown development projects part of the City Centre Master Plan being implemented?
Substantive Question: When will wider Auckland see similar dedication and focus that the City Centre, Downtown and Waterfront are all getting in terms of plans and development projects.
That is when will we see public announcements and media briefings like the one today for Downtown on something like the launch of the Manukau City Centre Master Plan, or the Henderson Metropolitan Centre Plan or any one of the other but often forgotten about Metropolitan Centres which play inaugural part of binding wider Auckland together.
Yes the City Centre is the heart of the Auckland Region but  it can be argued Auckland has a few hearts. Such as Manukau as the heart for South Auckland, Henderson for the West, and in the future Albany for the north. So  quoting the Deputy Mayor in that Manukau needs loving, when will that love come out the Metropolitan Centres (the Town Centres I believed are going to be covered in the Area Plans that are on their way so not particular interested in the Town Centres in this question) especially as it seeming resentment is growing against a perceived pro CBD policy at the expense of the wider region.
The West Auckland recent issues have given further stress and emphasis to getting places like our Metropolitan Centres up to spec so that local communities have thriving hubs that would mitigate (but not entirely eliminate and I know that as a Geographer) deprivation issues the South and West are facing.
So maybe we might see yourselves (Penny and Ludo) outside a Metropolitan Centre in the near future doing an announcement like the briefing today for Downtown before the end of the year?

 

———–

I did get a partial answer back in a discussion (not with Penny and Ludo) that there are projects happening out in the wider Auckland region. I said in reply that you need to sell that strongly to which was agreed upon and is being worked on. But the main point was that we need a functioning City Centre to compete against the world. This is true but (if the Sovereign Report I picked up on is anything to go by) if the well-being of suburbia and its Centres (including their supporting Metropolitan Centres) are unwell (and it Auckland is unwell)  then the City Centre can not be at 100%. Auckland is only as strong as its weakest link which currently is suburbia. How can the City Centre support us if we can not support it in return due to low wellbeing. A paradoxical question that needs to be answered. Maybe a presentation for the Auckland Development Committee next month?

 

And this brings us to the conclusion of this chapter of the story of Downtown Auckland

I thank Ludo and Penny for the time they gave on Wednesday with the presentation (can I get that copy please 🙂 ). Per the Auckland Development Committee regular updates (monthly) are meant to occur with the progress of the City Centre. I believe the next substantial update that would “warrant” a briefing would be in August and again in September (read above if you have forgotten).

UPDATE

The Presentation Ludo gave at the briefing

 

Seeming we are talking City Centres here are some photos of our other and smaller City Centre 😉

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References:

Transport Blog on Little Queen Street: Downtown: Little Queen St

Submission to Auckland Plan: http://www.scribd.com/doc/74829024/Ben-s-Auckland-Plan-Submission

Submission to Unitary Plan: http://www.scribd.com/doc/207846633/Unitary-Plan-Submission-PDF-Mode

21st Century Auckland Development Presentation: http://www.scribd.com/doc/186133948/21st-Century-Auckland-Booklet-PDF-Mode

The Super Metropolitan Centre (excerpt from Unitary Plan submission): http://www.scribd.com/doc/226072839/Regional-and-District-Objectives-and-Policies-PDF-Mode